Picture it, a beautiful Harlem restaurant filled with smart, beautiful Black women having honest, thought-provoking conversations. If you’re not already excited, something is seriously wrong with you. This weekend, MSNBC is giving us a chance to eavesdrop on some amazing women-led conversations with The Culture Is, a special four-part series highlighting Black, Latina, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Indigenous women. The first part of the special, The Culture Is: Black Women, will air on Sunday, June 19 at 10 pm ET on MSNBC. It lets viewers in on anchors Joy Reid and Tiffany Cross’ dinner conversation with guests, including Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist and Creator of the 1619 Project, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Tarana Burke, Activist, Author, and Founder of the Me Too Movement and Robin Thede, creator and show runner for HBO Max’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. The special also includes an exclusive sit-down between Reid and Vice President Kamala Harris.
A self-described news nerd like myself couldn’t help but get excited about the opportunity to speak exclusively with Joy and Tiffany about where the idea for the special originated and why they thought the conversation was so important at this moment.
Reid and Cross said the idea for their special came after a 2021 trip they took to Cabo with girlfriends – who just so happen to be heavy hitters themselves, including activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham, political strategist and organizer LaTosha Brown, and journalist Jemele Hill. The time away, Cross said, was not only relaxing but a catalyst for some seriously heartwarming conversations. “I don’t have to tell you the type of honest exchange that happens when Black women get together,” Cross said.
And while the women appreciated the time they took to unplug, celebrate and support one another, Cross says they were surprised by what happened when they began sharing the pics from their trip on social media. “Not only did we drive conversation, but we drove commerce,” she said. “People were asking about and following the brands behind the things we wore, ate and drank. Even though we weren’t promoting anything, our organic activities became the subject of conversation.”
When they got home, Cross and Reid immediately began strategizing about how to keep the conversation going and bring other strong female voices to the table. “We explored all of these options until it dawned on us that we work for a tv company,” Cross said. “We can do this as a special.”
Reid thought the best way to celebrate sisterhood and inspire intimate conversation was through dinner. “The dinners allowed us to really get to know each other. So my thought was to bring together lots of prominent Black women, who all faced some of the same challenges and some of the same haters,” she said.
They chose Minton’s Playhouse, located inside Harlem’s historic Cecil Hotel, to provide a beautiful backdrop to their conversation. “Minton’s and the Cecil go all the way back to the Ella Fitzgerald era. It was the jazz spot in Harlem,” Reid said. With the location set, they added food prepared by renowned Harlem chef Melba Wilson, and what came out was some serious Black Girl Magic. “We just put together things that really espoused Blackness, Black womanness, Black history, and the most fabulous Black place to be,” Reid said. “It was amazing.”
Their dinner guests included women who represented different industries, and they didn’t all know each other well. But Cross said their common lived experience was enough to make them feel like they could keep it real. “When we gather, we create a safe space for each other,” Cross said. “Because as Black women, even if I don’t really rock with you, I rock with you. When our community has to face the outside world, that’s my sister no matter what.” And she adds that by not having to explain their issues, they could get right down to business. “We could skip past explaining why hair and makeup is an issue and what it means to have someone demean you. We could get right into ‘Yes, sister, I see you. I remember when that thing happened to you. And yes, let’s talk about it.’”
Reid added that the group bonded over the strength they have to display in the face of their challenges. “Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley has to do her job in heels while facing death threats. We’re never allowed to be publicly angry. We’re never allowed to be publicly upset,” she said. ”I think about my sister, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She could have never pulled a Kavanaugh. If she cried, and talked about liking beer, she would have never been confirmed. We always have to handle our slights and our attacks with poise. And you know what? We do.”
Cross said she hopes Black women watching on Sunday night will feel at home. “Truly, we want our sisters, when they watch this special, to feel like we see you, and we understand you because we are you,” she said.
But while The Culture Is: Black Women focuses on Black women’s lived experience, Cross and Reid say other groups can benefit from tuning in too. Reid says the conversation can provide some insight to help others better understand Black women and the issues they face. ”I think it’s important for all of us to experience one another’s reality and cultural identity because that’s what this country is. It’s a multiracial democracy – at least that’s what we’re trying to have,” she said.
“We may represent a small sect of American society, but where we go, the rest will follow,” Cross added. “And so when you sit and hear this conversation, it does provide an insight into the authentic sisterhood that can exist among strangers.”
“And by the way, it’s just amazing storytelling. The visual is just gorgeous. And you’re going to hear great stories,” Reid noted. “The stories that come from that table will stay with you. They’re incredible, poignant, funny, silly, serious, tragic, everything a great story is.”
The Culture Is: Black Women airs on Sunday, June 19 at 10 pm ET on MSNBC.